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This article is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

Chapter Zero: Silence Robin Maconie

‘Silence can be realized only through music, which should be the “music of silence” and not an actual cessation of sound.’ Leonid Sabaneev

The Germans have a saying, ‘Der Weiser schweigt’ (The wise man holds his tongue: or literally, the philosopher is silent).1 I was delivered this gentle reprimand over a glass of beer by a respected music critic (I think it may have been Carl Dahlhaus) at the 1965 Darmstadt Festival of Contemporary Music, an annual celebration attended that year by Pierre Boulez and an ailing Theodor Adorno. The advice was well-intended and, coming from the music correspondent of a major newspaper, probably prudent as well, given that visitors were already subject to ambush by enemy forces in the person of an amiable Belgian sociologist, clipboard in hand, an individual driven with evangelical fervour to persuade one and all that modern music of any kind (atonal, twelve-tone, graphic, serial, aleatoric, improvised, intuitive, electronic, computed, or composed by chance procedures), having been shown by numerous polls to be unacceptable to a majority of the music-loving public, was thus a pursuit contrary to reason and public morality.

In his own terms, M. Caraël of the Brussels Free University was perfectly right to be perplexed at the existence of a school (or schools) of a modern music that not only sounded incomprehensible and unpleasant to the ordinary listener, but was opposed to every rational convention of melody, harmony, reason, order, technique, and acceptable musical and social propriety. ...


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